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The Wisconsin Department of Justice Obtains an Environmental Judgment Against Wisconsin Electric Power Company


MADISON — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced today that the Wisconsin Department of Justice has obtained a judgment in an environmental lawsuit in Racine County Circuit Court against Wisconsin Electric Power Company (WE).


The State of Wisconsin brought this case at the request of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for violations that arose during WE's construction of a retention pond at its Oak Creek Power Plant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.


These violations were discovered by the DNR after it responded to an October 31, 2011, bluff collapse on the south end of the WE facility located on Lake Michigan. The bluff collapse released approximately 22,720 cubic yards of material, including coal ash, a small portion of which was discharged into Lake Michigan. The collapse also carried debris from the construction worksite, including vehicles and heavy machinery down the bluff and into Lake Michigan.


In the immediate aftermath of the collapse, WE undertook response actions, including the placement of containment devices and a geotechnical analysis of the stability of the bluff. WE then undertook additional response actions, including the excavation and removal of the material and debris that had been released as a result of the bluff collapse. This work was completed by late November 2011.


The complaint alleged that WE excavated waste materials and constructed the new retention pond in areas other than those originally approved by the DNR, failed to notify the DNR when grading of the project reached fifty percent completion and failed to revise its erosion control plans when the retention pond was moved. WE agreed to pay the State of Wisconsin $100,000 to reimburse the DNR $53,397.03 for its costs of response, the Wisconsin Department of Justice $3,000 for its costs of prosecution and forfeitures, costs and surcharges totaling an additional $43,602.97. An EPA report on the incident estimated that the cleanup and associated costs paid by WE for cleanup and remediation was $12.1 million.


Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Steven Tinker represented the state. Racine County Circuit Court Judge Gerald P. Ptacek approved the settlement on July 8, 2013.


Copies of the Summons and Complaint, Stipulation and Order for Judgment, and Judgment are available here.